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Towson's Kilee Taflinger a role model for aspiring female strength coaches

When Eddie Keith II arrived on Towson's campus in 2014, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard tipped the scales at 245 pounds, outweighing teammates who were almost a half-foot taller than him.

Under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Kilee Taflinger, Keith is now hovering around 220 pounds. The sophomore has replaced fried food, pizza and sour cream with grilled chicken and salads, and has added six inches to his vertical.

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"Coach Kilee does a great job of showing what you need to do," Keith said. "She gives you a game plan of what your body should be, and it helps us rebound the ball better, defend better. … This is the best basketball shape I've ever been in. I'm so strong. I feel like I'm one of the strongest guards out on the court at all times."

Taflinger, 30, is believed to be just one of two female strength and conditioning coaches working with a Division I men's basketball program. Along with Kansas' Andrea Hudy, Taflinger is carving a path in a field populated by men, but she doesn't view herself as a pioneer.

"I think when you train athletes, you're training the kid whether it's a male or a female," she said. "I see coaching as being the same."

Taflinger, who grew up in Indiana, has long had a love affair with basketball, playing four years of varsity at Delta High School in Muncie and trying out for Indiana State as a walk-on in fall of 2003. Although the rigors of college basketball proved to be too much and influenced her to transfer to Ball State after one semester at Indiana State, her experience with the Sycamores convinced her to pursue a career in strength and conditioning.

"I was a scrawny 113 pounds in my senior year in high school, and I wasn't cut out for it," the 5-9 Taflinger recalled. "I got pushed around and the daily grind of being a Division I basketball player, I was like, 'There's got to be a better way.' I graduated high school in 2003, and I didn't know anything about strength and conditioning or weights. We didn't have any of that stuff at my high school."

After earning a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Ball State in 2007 and a master's in exercise physiology from Louisville in 2009, Taflinger worked at Louisville and Maryland before Vicki Chliszczyk, a gymnastics assistant coach with the Terps who jumped to the Tigers to take over their gymnastics program, persuaded Taflinger to apply for an opening at Towson.

Working with gymnastics, men's and women's lacrosse, and men's and women's soccer, Taflinger added women's basketball to her workload and then teamed with Adam Fletcher to oversee men's basketball prior to the 2012-13 season.

"When I took over, I could tell she had an interest in basketball," Fletcher said. "… She's very, very driven and extremely passionate about what she does. She has a special niche in being able to motivate her athletes to work at an extremely high level."

Fletcher left for a job at Illinois in August, and Tigers coach Pat Skerry did not take much time finding his successor.

"I'm not someone that sees color, gender, creed," Skerry said. "I just wanted the best person to get the job done. … We moved Kilee because she's been with us, she's done a great job, she's talented and it was just a seamless transition. We haven't missed a beat at all, and I didn't think we would."

Like Fletcher, Taflinger emphasizes exercises that strengthen the lower bodies of the basketball players, doesn't used machine-based weights and won't overload the athletes until she can see them go through full range of motion with the proper technique.

Taflinger will often work out with the players, developing a camaraderie with them.

"Coach Kilee is nice, but she's demanding," Keith said. "She knows what she wants. She may have a nice, soft voice, but she's demanding. Our lifts are always fun. She makes everything fun, but we're working."

Taflinger also works with the players on their diets. She prepares daily bags filled with peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, fruit, protein bars, pretzels and water for the players.

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In addition to helping Keith trim weight, she has worked with 6-9 freshman forward Alex Thomas to beef up from 216 pounds to 240.

"She's really been a big help in improving our eating and our nutrition," Skerry said. "… She's doing a great job with a couple of the guys who are redshirting this year. We've already seen some real good improvement. But that's kind of what we expected."

Skerry and Keith said they don't view Taflinger's gender as an issue. But Taflinger's work has influenced a pair of Towson athletes — lacrosse player Hillary Sorg (Maryvale Prep) and gymnast Nicolette Vignola — to aim to become strength and conditioning coaches.

"Athletics has always been in my life, and I think her passion for bettering us and helping us succeed really made me strive to be a person like her," said Sorg, a Bel Air resident who is getting ready for graduate school. "She genuinely cares about every single athlete she comes in contact with, and it's so apparent through everything that she does for us. That's what made me want to do it, because I want to be in a job where I'm excited to go every day and I'm excited to try new things, and I'm excited to share my knowledge."

Hearing from athletes like Sorg delights Taflinger.

"I love that," she said. "I think a big part of the job is being a role model, and I like to practice what I preach. I'm a better athlete and a stronger athlete now at 30 than I ever was from 18 to 22. … If I can be a positive role model for females and get them to see that being strong and being confident is a good thing, then I think that's awesome. That's what I strive to be every single day."

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